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^g                                                                                                           B. POLEVOI
himself and groaned: "0 Lord! 0 my God!" got up
several times, went to the water bucket, rattled the
dipper, and drank in big, greedy gulps, like a winded
horse. At last he could stand it no longer. He got up,
lit the rushlight, touched Alexei, who was lying with
open eyes in a state of semi-consciousness, and said:
"Are you asleep, Alexei? I am lying here and thinking.
Lying here and thinking, I say. In the old village, over
there, there's an oak standing in the square. About thirty
years ago, during the first big war, when Nicholas was
on the throne, this oak was struck by lightning, which
burnt the top off. But it was a sturdy tree, powerful roots
and plenty of sap. The sap had nowhere to go upwards,
so it produced a side shoot, and you should see what a
fine, new, curly head it's got-----It's the same with our
Plavni___If only the sun shines and the earth is fertile;
what with our own, Soviet government, we, brother
Alexei, will put everything to rights again in about five
years. We are stickers, make no mistake about that! If
only the war ends soon! We'll smash them up, and then
set to work, all of us together. What do you think?"
That night Alexei's condition worsened.
Grandad's bath acted like a stimulant upon Alexei and
roused him out of his stupor. He became more conscious
than ever of his utter exhaustion and weariness, and of
the pain in his feet. He rolled feverishly on his mattress,
moaned, ground his teeth, called for somebody, railed at
somebody, demanded things.
Varya sat up with him all night, her legs drawn up,
her chin resting on her knees, and her large, round,
mournful eyes staring straight in front of her. Every
now and again she put a cold wet rag to Alexei's head
or breast, or adjusted the sheepskin which he kept
throwing off, and all the time she was thinking of her
husband who was far away, blown hither and thither
by the wind of war.
At the first streak of dawn the old man woke up,
glanced at Alexei, now quiet and dozing, and whispering
something to Varya, made ready for a journey. He
pushed his felt-booted feet into galoshes which he himself
had made from an automobile tyre, tightly belted his
coat with a bast girdle and took up a juniper stick which